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Baltimore’s black men helping each other | COMMENTARY

Donnell Eley, associate pastor at Faith United Baptist Church, livestreams from his phone as he leads a group of community leaders, pastors and residents through East Baltimore recently. They talked with people as they passed by, greeted drivers at stoplights and handed out flyers about job opportunities. The group said it's part of a movement to heal the city and stop the violence.
Donnell Eley, associate pastor at Faith United Baptist Church, livestreams from his phone as he leads a group of community leaders, pastors and residents through East Baltimore recently. They talked with people as they passed by, greeted drivers at stoplights and handed out flyers about job opportunities. The group said it's part of a movement to heal the city and stop the violence.(Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Sun)

On Monday’s National Celebration of Dr. King’s life and legacy, I responded to the call to be among the 1,000 men walking in the MLK Day Parade in Baltimore. It was an honor to say the least. Walking shoulder to shoulder, side by side with other men from various religious and socio-economic backgrounds was not only a sight to behold, but also a statement that needed to be made.

The demonstration was a continuation of the ongoing “We-Our-Us Movement” walks that have been taking place in the city over the last six months. These walks, led by the Mayor’s Office for African-American Male Engagement (AAME), faith and community leaders, have become a show of unity for men to come together for peace and provide resources to those who have been marginalized as a result of long standing structural and institutional warfare on black men in Baltimore.

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These walks have gained momentum because men are attracted to a God-centered, solutions-oriented, non-ego driven movement where black men finally have agency over their own lives and destiny. This effort has become a vocation for black men across the city, as the challenges have compelled many to stand for each other, families and communities to prevent further downward spiral.

Crime is an incessant problem in Baltimore where the city recorded its highest murder rate per capita last year. So, it’s no surprise that many have walked the path of black male engagement, but very few steps have led to significant change. At this point, we must ask the obvious question aloud that so many have secretly pondered, is the black man of Baltimore worth saving?

While some ask this question in doubt, believing the effort is hopeless, in trying to accomplish this Herculean task, my brothers and I believe the answer starts with acknowledging the value of Baltimore’s most undervalued citizen. The We-Our-Us Movement is a sign there is still value and life in the black man of Baltimore. However, that value must be affirmed daily because from City Hall to newsrooms to schools and court rooms, our humanity is being questioned and disputed.

There is a saying often used in community organizing which states, "those closest to the problem are the ones closest to the solutions, but furthest from resources and power.” If you ask Baltimoreans today what the city’s biggest problem is, violence often tops the list. Unfortunately, data shows that black men are both the number one perpetrators and victims of violent crimes in Baltimore. I know that self-worth starts within and then permeates outward. The struggle of today’s black man of Baltimore is that he is waging wars on two fronts, within himself and with the world. Sometimes he wins and sometimes he doesn’t. When he doesn’t, it becomes another tragedy.

According Baltimore Police statistics, there were 348 homicides in 2019 and 325 victims were black; 311 of those victims were males. Black men make up nearly 90% of the victims. This means that over a 5-year period more than 1,500 families lost a loved one. These families suffered trauma, loss and brokenness. Then there’s the neighborhood level trauma inflicted on people who live under a constant fog of death.

In any other community, this tragedy would be deemed a human rights crisis warranting a state of emergency. However, in the black community of Baltimore, death by violence has become “normalized.” The city is under great pain and suffering, and my brothers and I, who are closest to the problems, are not considered to be part of the solution. We continue to languish in the divestment of resources and further disconnected from power that can save lives and restore our city.

We must have, as Dr. King said, “the fierce urgency of now,” to address these issues. Otherwise, if the effort to save black men continues to be inadequate, then the bright future we dream of having will be overshadowed by despair. No more aggressive rhetoric with passive action. It’s time that black men of Baltimore are at the table so the whole city can eat.

Dr. King would be proud.

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Farajii Muhammad is the Host of For The Culture on WEAA 88.9 FM and he can be reached at farajiimuhammad@gmail.com

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